He’s the sleep doctor who couldn’t sleep. But his experience led to a revolutionary approach to curing insomnia that can help anyone get a better night’s rest.
Today, in part three of our illuminating series, Dr Guy Meadows turns conventional wisdom on its head to argue against sleeping in separate beds.
Today, in part three of our illuminating series, Dr Guy Meadows turns conventional wisdom on its head to argue against sleeping in separate beds
Relationships can be affected massively by a lack of sleep.
The inevitable tiredness that results can make one partner snappy and withdrawn from the other.
And resentment towards a loved one who sleeps well — perhaps even snoring while doing it — is common.
One client, we’ll call him John, told me that separate bedrooms had become the only way he could control the jealousy, anger and even loneliness he felt watching his wife fall asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow, while he lay there wide awake.
Sleeping in the spare room, he said, helped quell his resentment. It also seemed a practical solution, as he no longer needed to worry about being disturbed by his wife’s snoring or nocturnal movements.
Many sleep therapists suggest moving into a separate room as part of a treatment programme. I strongly disagree with this approach — and I’ll tell you why.
To encourage sleeping apart is to lose sight of how sharing a bed brings a sense of love, comfort and even safety.
Don’t underestimate, either, the damage that sleeping apart can wreak on your sex life.
Common sense tells you you’re more likely to be intimate with someone you share a bed with. And sex can make it easier to sleep in the first place.
I see this snowball effect with clients, where not sleeping was the initial problem, but then the more exhausted they became through lack of sleep the less they felt like having sex. Thus a cycle becomes established.
Sex really is good for sleep. That’s because of the way it encourages the brain to release the feel-good intimacy hormone, oxytocin. As well as boosting a sense of connection with your partner, this hormone also aids mental and physical relaxation.
And making love with your partner tends to make you feel safe and loved — our brains need us to feel secure to let us sleep.
There are, though, inevitable problems with sharing a bed. You may have different bedtimes. Or you might prefer different room temperatures.
Relationships can be affected massively by a lack of sleep. The inevitable tiredness that results can make one partner snappy and withdrawn from the other [File photo]
Intimacy goes out of the window
Some people might turn noisily in the night, or keep a phone next to the bed when their partner would prefer technology kept out of the bedroom.
Such disturbances can be the source of anxiety and sleeplessness, and I have come across some heartbreaking stories over the years.
Some people have sworn off relationships entirely as their fear of bed-sharing is so acute. Others have moved home to get the separate bedroom they believed essential to remain living together as a couple.
These are extreme, but obvious, solutions to insomnia if the fear of disturbance is that great. And yes, sleeping alone for a while can give you a sense of control over your environment and result in more sleep.
However, if this becomes a habit, the fear of sharing a bed can increase and promote poor sleep in the long term.
John came to see me in the first place because he wanted the intimacy of sleeping alongside his partner again. Much of my time is spent teaching clients how to do this. The thought of sleeping in the same bed again can be daunting [File photo]
Take John, who found moving to the spare room improved his sleep at first. However, he went on to sleep just as badly on his own having also sacrificed intimacy with his wife.
Inevitably, their sex life suffered. It reached a point where they couldn’t go away together unless they had separate bedrooms.
Sex was the last thing on his mind, as all John could think about was getting enough sleep. Once again, the short-term solution became a large part of the long-term problem.
John came to see me in the first place because he wanted the intimacy of sleeping alongside his partner again. Much of my time is spent teaching clients how to do this.
The thought of sleeping in the same bed again can be daunting. The stress of it is likely to bring out unhelpful thoughts and sensations.
Don’t languish alone at night
Learning to share your bed with those unwanted ‘arrivals’ will determine whether you stay in it with your partner or sleep alone.
You can do this slowly over several weeks by increasing the amount of nights spent sharing a bed.
If the thought of a whole night is too much, start with 30 minutes or an hour per night and then build up from there.
The key is to be accepting of the thoughts, emotions and sensations that flood your mind as you lie there.
In the same way that you can’t control the weather, you can’t control what you think and feel.
Pick a start date, while being flexible enough to adapt to any life events that crop up along the way. If you struggle to sleep well alone, you may prefer to work on this before fully sharing a bed with your partner [File photo]
However, you can always choose how you behave. By gradually getting to know the disrupted thoughts, you will soon begin to realise that however unpleasant they might be, they cannot harm you.
As you accept that, so too will your brain — and instead of triggering the ‘fight or flight’ response to bed sharing, it will accept it for what it is: a natural and bonding element of a loving relationship.
Try not to put this off. It’s too easy to convince yourself that now isn’t the right time because of work and life commitments.
There will be better times than others, but there is never going to be a perfect time — waiting for one can become an (albeit subconscious) delaying tactic.
Pick a start date, while being flexible enough to adapt to any life events that crop up along the way. If you struggle to sleep well alone, you may prefer to work on this before fully sharing a bed with your partner.
However, this approach can result in clients learning to sleep well on their own, but never making the final step to bed-sharing. This is because they are unwilling to go back to sleeping badly again.
Learning to share your bed with those unwanted ‘arrivals’ will determine whether you stay in it with your partner or sleep alone. You can do this slowly over several weeks by increasing the amount of nights spent sharing a bed [File photo]
Therefore, it often makes sense to tackle bed-sharing at the same time as learning to sleep well. This involves the same techniques, so you will be better off in the long run. Involve your partner, too. That way they do not feel left out and can offer support in the middle of the night.
With John, the first thing we did was think of all the unwanted thoughts likely to occur when sharing a bed with his wife, such as, ‘I can’t believe she is asleep already’ or ‘She is going to start snoring soon’.
Then we covered the emotional responses, such as anxiety and waves of adrenaline that would course through his body.
I told John that although he could not stop such reactions, he could use the acceptance-based techniques instead of just escaping to the spare room.
Snoring and other noises
Noise can be the bane of your life if you can’t sleep. It may only take someone gently opening a door or walking across a room for you to be disturbed in the lighter phases of sleep.
This means snoring partners, partying neighbours, crying babies, barking dogs or even the dawn chorus can all break your sleep. One way to control this is to use earplugs.
However, the newfound silence can make you more aware of internal body noises, such as your heart beating. So don’t become reliant on them to sleep.
The alternative is to transform the way your brain relates to the noise by describing what you hear in a neutral and objective manner. In doing so, you come into the moment and remove any unhelpful judgmental narrative that fuels your fear of the noise.
Often, it is our reaction to the noise that creates more of a problem than the noise itself.
This is where Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) comes in, which involves learning to accept discomfort, dealing with the feelings it provokes and defusing the challenges it throws up.
In this instance, that meant John staying in the marital bed, despite his wife’s snoring. By noticing and naming the negative thoughts it provoked, he was able to accept the inevitable night-time disturbances.
For a month he gradually started to increase the amount of time he spent sharing a bed. He described the first few nights, when he would stay for a few hours, as truly awful; he couldn’t wait to go back to the spare room.
Within a few weeks, though, he found the symptoms paled into insignificance when compared with the importance of being with his wife.
After one month, he was waking up in the morning next to her for the first time in years having slept well.
Why can’t I sleep?
Author Tash Bell, 47, developed insomnia after her eldest child, Poppy, now 13, was born. She tried sleeping apart from business consultant husband Mat, 46, but this did not help. They live in Salisbury, Wilts, with Poppy, son Stanley, 11, and nine-year-old Rose. Tash says:
When a friend said separate bedrooms had helped her sleep better and suggested I try it, I was torn. I enjoy sharing a bed with Mat: when we close the bedroom door on the kids, we’re a couple again.
But my insomnia means I’m lucky to get four hours’ sleep a night. I wake at the slightest sound or movement from Mat; then my mind whirrs and I can’t nod off again.
Author Tash Bell, 47, developed insomnia after her eldest child, Poppy, now 13, was born. She tried sleeping apart from business consultant husband Mat, 46, but this did not help. The pair are pictured together
At first, I enjoyed the novelty of our new sleeping arrangements — Mat and I kissed goodnight on the landing, and I enjoyed reading with the light on.
I did sleep a little better in the spare room, but soon became painfully aware of the impact that separate beds was having on us.
One evening we had a spat, but instead of making up before bedtime, I went off in a huff to my room — because I could. The frostiness hardened in the morning. When we did make up, we recognised sleeping apart had made things worse.
Then there was the impact on intimacy. Now, we were seeing each other for the first time when Mat walked into the kitchen as I was in ‘get the kids to school’ mode. He’d come for a kiss, but I was engrossed in tasks.
Most frustrating, though, was that my insomnia had not been cured. I’d started waking in the night again to other sounds — the dawn chorus or a child coughing. And now I felt lonely without Mat.
Coming back together was right for us; it’s made me more appreciative of Mat’s presence. Last week, I lay awake at 4am, listening to the birds and him breathing, and thought: ‘Actually, this is OK.’ I’m sleeping better, too.
Guy says: This experiment enabled Tash to move towards acceptance of the disturbances that come with sharing a bed. This has helped her when it comes to sleeping.
Learn how to sleep like a baby
Babies don’t have the mental or emotional capacity to over-think the act of sleeping — they just get tired and instinctively go to sleep.
The problem with us adults is that we can lose that unthinking element to falling asleep, and we start to struggle with the physical and emotional sensations that come along at night.
One of the six core processes of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and an essential part of The Sleep School programme, is present moment awareness or mindfulness.
While it is not designed to get you to sleep, it plays an important role on the path to recovery.
Babies don’t have the mental or emotional capacity to over-think the act of sleeping — they just get tired and instinctively go to sleep [File photo]
That’s because the first step to accepting your insomnia is to be able to notice yourself struggling in the first place.
Otherwise, how are you supposed to let go? Mindfulness offers an outsider’s perspective on your own problems, enabling you to respond to life’s stresses.
The more mindful you can be, the easier it will be to observe and accept the ‘arrivals’ — the worries and anxieties — that you have been struggling against at night.
- Mindfulness is not designed to get you to sleep.
- Mind wandering is allowed. Mindfulness is not about having a blank mind and it’s normal for your mind to wander off onto a thought, memory or some other distraction. If this happens, gently say, ‘Thank you, mind,’ and then return your attention back to whatever you were noticing.
- The time to start is now. Aim to practise a few mindful moments several times a day, whenever and wherever you like.
Be mindful in bed
Being mindful at night is about putting yourself in the right place for sleep, but is not designed to get you to sleep. It helps you to see your unhelpful struggle with sleeplessness and let go.
Choosing to be mindful takes courage, as it means seeing all the demons you have spent the daytime trying to avoid.
However, it is never as bad as your thinking mind makes it out to be. Practise these exercises for a few minutes before bed or in the depths of the night.
Remember, when choosing to be mindful for the first time in bed, you may feel even more awake. After all, you are choosing to sit with the very demons you have spent many years fighting. However, with practice you will start to feel relaxed and able to enjoy your bed again.
Sleep exercise 1: noticing at night
When you first get into bed or if you wake up, take a few minutes to notice your sense of touch — the feel of your pillow on your face, the duvet on your toes or where your mattress connects with your body, and if your mind wanders off, gently return it back. Now take a few minutes to notice your breath. Avoid the temptation to breathe deeply or slowly.
Instead, gently pay attention to the natural rhythm of your breath, noticing whether it is fast or slow, deep or shallow, but without feeling the need to change it.
If your mind wanders, which it will, simply return it back to your breath and continue the exercise.
Remember you can notice your breath in any position — you don’t need to get out of bed.
Sleep Exercise 2: Read the signals
This is something you can do when you have just got into bed.
For about ten to 30 seconds, notice the sensation of contact between your body and whatever you are lying on.
Move your awareness into your body and take notice of any of the emotions, physical sensations or urges that exist there. Start at your toes and slowly scan upwards through your body until you reach the top of your head.
Move your awareness into your body and take notice of any of the emotions, physical sensations or urges that exist there [File photo]
Spend ten to 30 seconds on scanning each area, noticing anything there is to notice, such as a muscle twitch, the beat of your heart, the flutter of your eyelids, the urge to move your body, or even nothing.
Doing this for five to ten minutes is good, but it can be done for shorter or longer periods.
Notice any urges to fight or avoid certain feelings that show up. ACT encourages you to welcome what you notice.
Consider greeting these physical or emotional manifestations: ‘Hello, racing heart’ or ‘Come on in, anxious feelings’ and then gently return your attention back to the area you were focused on.
Known as defusion, such welcoming is another of the core ACT processes.
By verbally describing and greeting your thoughts and emotions, you alter the context in which you view them, allowing you to step outside of them rather than being trapped in them.
Why you may need a sleep diet
Contrary to what you might expect, you may need to spend less time in bed to get a good night’s sleep.
It is common for insomniacs to spend longer in bed in the hope of increasing the chance of getting more sleep, but that reduces the quality of the rest you do get. In fact, you want to be in bed for the number of hours your body needs to sleep and no longer.
While the average amount of sleep that an adult needs is seven to eight hours, the range is between four and ten.
How much sleep you need is therefore a very individual thing. Crucially, if you wake up feeling relatively refreshed and able to function during the day, you’re likely to be getting enough.
Gentle sleep restriction can improve your drive to sleep, with marked benefits seen from going to bed 30 minutes later and getting up the same amount of time earlier for just a few weeks.
This works because you lose that extra bit of time spent lying in bed awake and so sleep more deeply and have more energy for the next day.
To work out how much sleep you could expect to achieve, and thus how much time to stay in bed, consider the following:
1 Your age — the amount of sleep you need declines with age, with newborns needing as much as 18 hours, compared with six for an 80-year-old.
2 Family sleeping history — if you are from a family of short sleepers (six hours), it could be futile trying to achieve more.
3 Recent sleep history — if you became an insomniac in the past one to two years and had a strong and regular sleeping pattern before that, use how you slept then as your guide.
4 Avoid exaggeration — don’t expect to be able to sleep for eight hours, having only ever slept for six. Trying to sleep for more hours than you need will weaken the sleep that you do get. Six to eight hours of good sleep is far better than ten hours of poor sleep.
Choosing the amount of time you plan to spend in bed does not mean that you will instantly sleep for that long. But it does provide strong foundations from which your new sleeping pattern can slowly emerge.
Once you have chosen your new sleep duration, stick with it as much as possible, as this will help to strengthen the quality of your sleep in the long term. A small variation will not hurt (20–30 minutes), but try to avoid longer.
Join our sleep clinic
Do you constantly argue about who is the most tired in your household? Are you considering a sleep divorce because you can’t share the same bed as your partner without being kept awake?
Find out what stands between you and a good night’s rest by joining our online Sleep School clinic. At 10am today and tomorrow, Dr Guy Meadows will be answering all your questions and finding solutions to help retrain your brain.
Follow these simple steps to join the Daily Mail’s sleep clinic on Facebook live.
1. Log into Facebook.
2. Click on the magnifier glass on the Facebook app on your phone or the Facebook search bar on your desktop.
3. Search for MyMail.
4. Visit MyMail Facebook page.
5. Scroll down to our video post where our Live Chat will start at 10am.
6. Click the play button on the video post to join in and ask your questions in the comment box.
7. Follow us to receive notifications of our future live chats.
Create your own snooze sanctuary
The bedroom is the one room in your home where you will spend more time than any other — a whole third of your life, in fact.
And yet how much thought do you put into ensuring it is a relaxing and healthy space which is conducive to refreshing sleep?
While I wouldn’t want you to obsess over creating the perfect environment — after all, you need to be able to sleep away from home, too — your bedroom should feel like a sanctuary.
It’s obvious, but the more comfortable your mattress, the better the quality of your sleep. The bed itself needs to be large enough for you and your partner to move around without waking each other, while the mattress should be just right for you both.
Crucially, though, we’re all individuals with our own needs — what I find blissful might feel like a bed of nails to someone else.
If you’re a hot sleeper, you’ll benefit from a sprung or latex mattress, allowing more breathability. Cold sleepers are better with one made from a material that retains heat, such as foam.
The bed itself needs to be large enough for you and your partner to move around without waking each other, while the mattress should be just right for you both [File photo]
The average person favours a medium to firm mattress — but if you prefer a softer or firmer bed to your partner, then the appropriate topper on your side of the bed will cater for that along with any conflicting temperature preferences.
Avoid buying online if you can — a mattress is an important investment, and you should try before you buy and get advice from a mattress specialist.
Some stores allow you to test pillows, too, which I would recommend.
Duvet dos and don’ts
this will come down to individual requirements — for example, a menopausal woman with night sweats will benefit from a lighter summer-tog duvet all year round, while a cold sleeper will be best with a winter-weight cover even in summer.
Lyocell is a new material being used in duvets that’s made from wood pulp. It wicks away moisture and is thought to support your body’s natural thermal regulating system.
Any problems with duvet hogging in the night can be addressed by having one each —this has the added benefit of allowing for different weight preferences, too.
I’m a fan of multi-layered bedding — sheets and quilts; ideally they shouldn’t be tucked in — you want to be able to throw off or pull on layers through the night when your temperature will fluctuate.
Meanwhile, linen sheets are naturally breathable and hypoallergenic, plus they respond to your body temperature.
Dim the lights
Light plays an important role in the regulation of your sleep- wake cycle and we get the best of rest when it’s dark.
The room does not need to be pitch black. However, it can be helpful to have a good set of blackout curtains, blinds or use an eye mask, especially in the summer months or when street lights cause problems.
Getting rid of unnecessary artificial lights, such LED clocks or standby lights on electrical equipment, will also help.
Beat the noise
One simple way of controlling noise is to use earplugs.
But beware — while they are capable of blocking out all external noise, the newfound silence will make you more aware of internal noises that can keep you awake, such as the beating of your heart. Soft furnishings are a brilliant way of dampening external noise — heavy curtains will help, and you can also buy special noise-cancelling blinds.
Wall hangings can absorb sound waves, and carpets are better than wooden floors, but a large rug will also work.
We all sleep best in cool environments, ideally around 17-19c (63-66f). When temperatures climb above or below those levels, your body tends to become restless and your sleep is consequently disturbed.
Research has shown that the air quality in a bedroom can be the worst in your whole house, and no wonder: the door tends to remain shut for privacy and other reasons, hindering ventilation of an often small room where you and your partner, if you have one, spend the whole night.
Cracking open a window will improve airflow, while aloe vera plants are natural air purifiers.
To avoid excess humidity, do not dry clothes in the bedroom, and if you have an en-suite shower, ensure the extractor fan works. If you notice mould, think about buying a dehumidifier.
Although bringing smartphones and tablets into the bedroom makes sleep problems worse, some gadgets are helping to encourage sleep rather than hinder it.
They’re doing this by tapping into the light sensitive cells in our eyes that help keep our internal body clock tuned to the right time.
Smart lighting devices can be pre-programmed to start darkening down during the evening, changing from white to a warm, orange colour.
They can also be set to start waking you up gradually in the morning with light that becomes increasingly brighter.
The Philips Hue White Ambiance Wireless Lighting LED Starter Kit for £116.99 comes with three bulbs, while for a portable smart light try the Philips Hue Go for £69.99 (johnlewis.com).
Technical experts are also working on ‘smart’ electrical blinds, which will begin to open at the time you want to begin waking up in the morning.
The Sleep Book by Dr Guy Meadows (Orion, £8.99).
©Guy Meadows. To order a copy for £7.19 (a 20 per cent discount), call 0844 571 0640. Offer valid until July 6, 2019. P&P is free on orders over £15.
The Sleep School For Insomnia app supports The Sleep Book with video content and guided audio tracks with Dr Meadows.
It is available at the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, or by visiting: thesleepschool.org/insomnia